A Eulogy for Rabbi Harold I. Salzmann

I’m Rick Floyd, a friend and clergy colleague of Rabbi Harold Salzmann. I am Pastor Emeritus of the First Church of Christ in Pittsfield down in Park Square.

I moved to Pittsfield in 1982 to be the pastor of the First Church. Harold had recently retired as rabbi here, and a few months after I arrived my friend Rabbi Alan Berg arrived to be the new rabbi.

My family and I have had a close association with the Temple. We lived across the street for 23 years. My son, Andrew, and my daughter, Rebecca, went to the Kid’s Pre-School here, under the capable watch of Lynn Denmark and Nancy Gagnon. I just saw Nancy before the service. My kids knew the Jewish Holidays before they knew their own. They began their education right here in this building. It must have been a good influence because my daughter went to Yale Divinity School and is an ordained minister.

I was a young man when I arrived in Pittsfield and Harold became a clergy mentor to me. I was just starting out and he was finishing up, but he taught me many things. He taught me how to do the interfaith thing and the community thing, where you work together with people of all faiths or none for the good of the community.

He was one of the first colleagues to welcome me to the community. Soon, I joined the Pittsfield Rotary Club and sat with Harold every Thursday for lunch for six years.

I also joined the Monday Evening Club where Harold was the Secretary and Treasurer, back then and right up to this year. I have been many times to Harold and Audrey’s home on Ann Drive for Club dinners where I have experienced their generous hospitality. And in the summer they would invite the Club to their cottage on Ashmere Lake for a picnic. We went this summer and Josh brought Harold and Audrey.

The Monday Evening Club was founded in 1869 and Harold became a member in 1955. For decades he put together the schedule, printed up little cards for the members, collected dues, and gave reports. It was in the Club that he met his friend Norman Rockwell.

He and I also took turns giving the blessing before each meal. Members often chose me to pray because mine were shorter. When a member died the other members would attend the funeral. Harold always came to these, and I am glad to see a number of our members are here today.

I never had a better clergy colleague than Rabbi Harold Salzmann. He showed up to everything. He came to ordinations, installations, and retirement celebrations. He taught me what I call “The Ministry of Showing Up.” We once invited Father Robert Drinan, then a United States Congressman, to come speak at my congregation, and I have a treasured photo of Father Drinan, Harold and myself, clergy of three historic faiths.

Harold and I served in leadership to the Central Berkshire Clergy Association. We had an annual dinner and Harold often made the arrangements. Harold also had deep friendships with Pittsfield’s African American community and he was a steadfast defender of civil rights.

If I had to describe Harold in one word that word would be integrity. There’s an important concept in the Bible called sedeq. It is usually translated into English as “righteousness,” but it can also mean wholeness or integrity. It is an attribute of God, and it is also an expectation for God’s people, although people always fall short.

Harold was a man of integrity. Josh has talked about his father’s strength and Ariel has talked about his humility, and I want to share a brief story that shows both Harold’s strength and his humility. Harold told this story to the Monday Evening Club several years ago when one of our members gave a paper about his brother dying in Vietnam. Harold had been an army chaplain, and because of that, he was for many years a firm supporter of the Vietnam War. Those of you who lived through the late 1960’s will recall how polarized the country was, much as it is today. There were massive protests all around the country, families were divided, and so were congregations.

In 1970, when the National Guard opened fire and killed several students who were peacefully protesting the war at Kent State University, Harold had a change of heart, and he changed his mind about the war. And on the next High Holy Days in the fall, when he preached to the biggest congregation of the year, he apologized to them and asked them to forgive him, admitting that he had been wrong about the war. This story brought tears to my eyes at the time and still does today.

Whatever Harold was involved in he was all in, whether it was Rotary, the Monday Evening Club, or Clergy Associations. Later in life he had a stamp collecting class at Kimball Farms. He was always reaching out and helping people.

Finally, on a personal note, I want to say that Harold was very kind and supportive to me during a very difficult time in my life, after I had a catastrophic bicycle accident and had to leave my pulpit because of my disabilities.

I feel so privileged to have known Harold for so many years. As I told Audrey, I loved Harold and he loved me. I give thanks to God for him.

(I delivered this eulogy at Rabbi Salzmann’s Funeral at Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield, Massachusetts on September 28, 2018. Photo: Cleveland Jewish News)

“Signs of God’s Reign” A Devotion on Matthew 15: 30,31.

“Great crowds came to Jesus, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” —Matthew 15:30,31.

When the early church heard about the healings that Jesus had done they understood them as signs that the long awaited reign of God had begun in him. Continue reading

“No Doubts? I Doubt it!” A Devotion on James 1: 5-8

“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” —James 1:5-8 Continue reading

“God’s Righteousness and Ours” A Devotion on Psalm 111:2-3

“Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of honor and majesty is God’s work, and God’s righteousness endures forever.”—Psalm 111:2-3

The concept of “righteousness” was important to Ancient Israel’s self-understanding of their covenant with God. The Hebrew word usually translated as righteousness could also mean integrity, justice, prosperity or wholeness. Righteousness was both an attribute belonging to God, and the order of things that God put into place for the well being of Israel.

There were two contesting schools of thought about Israel’s special covenant with God. There were those who believed that God’s choosing of Israel was unconditional and could never be revoked.

The other opinion, associated with the prophets, was that Israel’s election came with the responsibility to manifest God’s righteousness in the life of their society.

And the prophets’ test for national righteousness was how it treated the most vulnerable of its citizens. In patriarchal Israel the most vulnerable were widows and orphans, who had no male to give them status or protect them. Other vulnerable people were foreign migrants, who had no claim to the land. And finally, as in every society, the poor were vulnerable. Whenever this collection of “the last, the least and the lost” were being mistreated it called into question the integrity and identity of national life.

This idea of societal righteousness was important to our Puritan ancestors, and, though it has never been fully realized, remains in the DNA of American identity. For example Dr. King powerfully employed this Biblical notion in his plea to our national conscience during the struggle for civil rights.

A pressing question for our time is this: can the soul of a nation be considered sound if it mistreats its most vulnerable members?

Prayer: You are righteous, O God. Pour out your righteousness on our troubled land, that our national soul may be healed.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotion for August 16, 2018. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the UCC Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here)

“Everyday Virtue” A Devotion on Hebrews 13:18

“Pray for us; we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.” —Hebrews 13:18

People frequently conflate religion with morality, as if they were the same thing. When we are children we imagine that if we are good, God will reward us. But the Christian faith insists that God loves us as we are. As Paul put it: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Continue reading

“The False God SUCCESS” A Devotion on 1 Corinthians 4:10-13

“God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.”

—1 Corinthians 4:10-13 Continue reading